Ryan Musslewhite proved to be an unlikely star as Matlock held a strong Mansfield Town side to a scoreless draw at Rossington on Wednesday night.
The hospitable Northern Counties East League Division One hosts lent goalkeeper Musslewhite to the Gladiators for the game at extremely short notice when first choice custodian Phil Barnes went down with a sickness bug on the day of his new side’s first friendly.
Musslewhite pulled off a string of fine second half saves to earn Matlock their draw which was combined with first class application and resilience from a Gladiators starting eleven.
Mansfield dominated the second half and it seemed only a matter of time before they would break the deadlock but Musslewhite and Matlock stood firm. Matlock’s best spell came in the opening third of the contest as they began promisingly playing a neat passing game which saw them look the better side.
They won two early corners, Liam Needham’s header from the first being comfortably gathered by goalkeeper Scott Shearer Matlock before the lively Jake Green was soon forcing the second which the Stags comfortably cleared.
Shortly afterwards Green was involved once again with a brisk break down the right, Mansfield doing well to clear their lines from his low cross destined for co-striker Marc Newsham.
But the League Two side weathered the storm and it was Matlock then having to defend with authority with their complete back four of long serving favourite Adam Yates plus new signings Liam Marshall, Alex Pursehouse and Nico de Girolamo all looking calm and composed.
Marshall was one of two former Stags facing their old club, the other being highly experienced winger Andy Todd.
Striker Adi Yussuf badly scuffed wide Mansfield’s first noteworthy chance from 15 yards on 22 minutes before defender Krystian Pearce might have done much better than place his header wide from a Malvind Benning free kick out on the right.
James Baxendale’s long range strike was straight down Musslewhite’s throat, the goalkeeper then dropping on a strike from Yussuf who had turned sweetly in the underdogs’ penalty box.
The non leaguers replaced Todd, Jamie and Adam Yates with Niall McManus, the particularly impressive Dwayne Wiley and trialist Ben Partridge, and Mansfield made six adjustments with only Shearer and the back four staying intact after half-time.
Mansfield had Matlock hanging on in the opening ten minutes and Rhys Bennett was denied from successive corners in the space of a minute, Musslewhite tippng a header over the bar before Partridge was well placed to clear a second header off the line.
Musslewhite would then hold a power packed long range blast from Danny Rose who then midway through the half was found by Jake Green’s brother Matt, but again Musslewhite read the danger quickly to keep the ball out.
A rare Matlock break saw substitute Jack Siddall’s right wing centre defeat Shearer and strike the bar.
The Gladiators’ workrate could not be faulted leaving joint bosses Craig Hopkins and Glenn Kirkwood highly pleased in the knowledge that training sessions and general preparation was bearing fruit in spite of setbacks in the build up to their freshly assembled group’s first game together.
True, they lived dangerously before referee Darren England’s final whistle. Matt Green turned majestically to fire a low shot against a post with Musslewhite, for once, beaten, but still the Stags should have scored as George Taft’s follow up was horribly too high.
Musslewhite was intent on keeping his clean sheet and more fine work confirmed it with an excellent stop from Danny Rose before a well struck Ashley Hemmings effort flashed agonisingly past a post.
Matlock’s grit and determination saw them pass this stiff test and it augurs well for the season ahead. Hopkins and Kirkwood though know there is still some work to do on the offensive side,. but to earn a draw with an organised and disciplined performance against a team three tiers above them in their first game together must earn praise.
MATLOCK TOWN:Ryan Musslewhite, Liam Marshall, Alex Pursehouse, Laurie Wilson (Keenan Leyton 60), Adam Yates (Dwayne Wiley 46), Nico de Girolamo (Ashley Bartle 72), Jamie Yates (Ben Partridge 46), Liam Needham, Marc Newsham (Jack Siddall 60), Jake Green, Andy Todd (Niall McManus 46).
MANSFIELD TOWN: First half Shearer, Bennett, Pearce, Taft , Benning, CJ Hamilton, Chapman, Baxendale, M Rose, Trialist, Yussuf.
Second half: Shearer, Bennett, Pearce, Taft, Benning, Collins, Hurst, Clements, Hemmings, D Rose, Green.
REFEREE: Darren England (Barnsley).